Sunday, August 1, 2010

America's Summer of Hysteria

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times op-ed page has an article written by Tim Rutten who has just returned from a month spent out of our country. Rutten lists but a few of the many conspiracy theories and regressive policy proposals now openly promulgated not just by right-wing "fringe figures", but by mainstream Republican't congressional and gubernatorial candidates, and by current Republican't office-holders. I strongly encourage your readers to read the complete piece on A25. Here are parts of Rutten's column:
..... it's hard not to conclude that hysteria is now the dominant characteristic of our politics and civic conversation.

How else to explain the fact that questions like secession and nullification — issues that were resolved in blood by the Civil War more than a century ago — have come alive again and are routinely tossed around, not just by fringe figures but by Republican officeholders and candidates?

For example ... a Tennessee congressman who opposes the recently enacted healthcare reforms and is running for governor, told an interviewer that he hopes "the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government."

... GOP candidates for statewide office in various Midwestern and Southern states are promoting the notion that states ought not to enforce any federal law not approved by at least two-thirds of their state legislators. It's as if John C. Calhoun suddenly had risen from the grave and had a talk show

In Nevada, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate has discussed abolishing Social Security and darkly mused over whether Washington's alleged overreaching may require a "2nd Amendment solution." That means guns, a prospect that could be facilitated in one state after another by an outfit called Appleseed, which holds weekend seminars whose participants are given a mix of Minuteman pseudo-history and instruction on marksmanship.

... attempts to repeal sections of the Constitution continue apace. The so-called 10thers, who want to roll back 100 years of federal law and regulation in order to assert rights under the 10th Amendment, are almost unremarkably ubiquitous in the GOP.

Candidates across the country pining for "tea party" support have endorsed repeal of the 17th Amendment, which would end popular election of U.S. Senators and return their selection to state legislatures, a step that theoretically would "restore states' rights."

The most popular such movement involves abolishing or gutting the 10th Amendment as a way to deny American citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. . . . speculates that such children actually are terrorist moles planted here to grow up as U.S. citizens as part of a long-range plot.

Nothing quite tops the anti-Muslim hysteria, which has led people to organize opposition to the construction of new mosques in places from Lower Manhattan to Temecula. One candidate for statewide office in Tennessee ... argues that the 1st Amendment does not cover Muslims.

Some inclined toward therapeutic explanations of history might attribute all this to a kind of collective post-traumatic stress syndrome engendered by the lingering, still-unresolved aftermath of the horrific events of 9/11. Others might point to the dislocating effect of electing an African American president to govern a society in which strong currents of racial anxiety still eddy beneath the surface of everyday life. Perhaps both forces act in unseen concert.
And, Rutten concludes:
Back in the early 1970s — an era whose tumult we yet may come to regard as benign — social scientists here and in Britain coined the term "moral panic" to describe what can happen when groups of people are seized by an exaggerated fear that other people or communal forces threaten their values or way of life. The scholars described those who promoted the panic's spread as "moral entrepreneurs" — a term that takes on a deep resonance when you consider the commentators and politicians who have attached themselves, and their interests, to the "tea party" and its attendant movements.

In the midst of moral panic, inchoate indignation stands in for reason; accusation and denunciation supplant dialogue and argument; history and facts are rendered malleable, merely adjuncts of the moral entrepreneur's — or should we say provocateur's — rhetorical will. As we now also see, a self-interested mass media with an economic stake in the theatricality of raised and angry voices can transmit moral panic like a pathogen.
He "nailed it", noting that today's "politics and civic conversation" is pure "hysterical moral panic" - a virulent virus that is threatening to destroy our cherished political system.

How do we fight such an out-of-control mortal virus? How do we inoculate those of our citizenry whose immune systems are engaged in fighting off this new and deadly plague?


  1. Emily,
    Almost the political equivalent of a bank run. I guess since those who initiate this stuff keep repeating their lies till people believe it, all the reality-based community can do is restrain our sarcasm and anger (so we don't unintentionally fan the flames) and continue countering the hysteria with fact.

  2. This summed up the craziness very well.
    I happen to think we've been to polite and to quiet far to long. We've been waiting for the ones with reason to surface. Been waiting for that for a number of years now. Maybe I'm crazy too but I think we have to fight back. Call them out when it's appropriate.

  3. The Reagan Revolution today:

  4. Oso and Tim - I agree. We need a truth squad - one that identifies ASAP every single fabrication and lie that the right puts out.

    I also wish that there were a single place in which to list each and every single obstructive action that the Republican'ts have done to obstruct, slow down, emasculate, and defeat any congressional action that would have helped our country recover from the years of havoc wreaked upon it by the Republican'ts.

    Their refusal to help Obama right our Ship of State is pure and simple politics: they want the country to sink further and further down, so that they will appear electable to our fellow citizens with their short memories who have been brainwashed into fearing Obama.

    The Republican'ts must not be rewarded for their passive-aggressive behaviors. They do not deserve one penny from we the taxpayers, for they have not done the job for which they were elected: they have offered absolutely nothing to help find solutions to our pressing problems (which they largely created). They are bereft of ideas save for their old tired mantra of tax cuts for the richest one percent of our country and for the big corporations. To hell with the rest of us. Their sole goal is to regain control of our government, so they can finish their wanton destruction of our Constitution and our Democracy.

    We need more Anthony Weiners to call them out for the shameless fear-mongers and liars that they are.

  5. Emily, (forgive the length of this comment) but I found in Tim Rutten's column a red flag. I read these words from Appleseed's site:

    Our volunteer instructors travel across the country teaching those who attend about the difficult choices, the heroic actions, and the sacrifices that the Founders made on behalf of modern Americans, all of whom are their “progeny.”

    .... Modern listeners are confronted with the danger, the fear, and the heartbreaking separations that arose out of the choices made on April 19th, 1775.

    .... We also recognize the racist origins of the gun control movement and take special pride in welcoming those who have suffered unjustly in that regard . . . .

    Why teach marksmanship?

    .... Since these skills are likewise key elements of mature participation in civic activities, we urge our students to take what they have learned about themselves as marksmen and apply it to their participation in their communities and in the wider American society in accordance with their own choices about how Americans should govern themselves.

    .... There are those who feel that America’s future is grim, that is, that America has lost something special and it can never be regained. And in their consternation they mutter about “dark choices” and the like. Appleseed has a message for them. Just over two hundred years ago our ancestors genuinely faced a tough choice. They could submit to those they felt were depriving them of their rights as Englishmen or they could fight. Because they chose as they did, we may never have to face their dilemma because we have a third alternative.

    On its site, Appleseed does make disclaimers about affiliations extremist organizations. Maybe we should just assume that it's just another wholesome American organization running summer camps? So.... I'm not sayin', just askin' ....

  6. There are various forms of Truth Squads but no single comprehensive entity. Even if there were, the people who would benefit the most from it wouldn't read it. It's paid for by the Socialists, you see.

    I love the idea of a list. After all the right has been using them for decades. McCarthy all the way through to the Susan B. Anthony List.

  7. I just received an email about a new TruthSquad dealing with "facts" on the Internet. It is partnering with Poynter and FactCheck is an advisor. I'm going to post something about it on my blog but thought I'd drop the URL off here.

  8. Tim Rutten is envisioning an apocalypse that simply isn't hppening. He is hyperventalating (not to mention engaging in hyperbole).

    Speaking of a truth squad, many of his quotes and comments are taken out of context or are half truths worthy of Andrew Breitbart.

    Everyone (on both sides) needs to take a deep breath and calm down. The revolution isn't coming and President Obama isn't a socialist (although maybe he should be).

  9. "They.......bleep...bleep ...bleep

  10. Comment Moderation: Anonymous comments on this site are not permitted. Therefore the comment above has been moderated out of recognition.

  11. I don't understand why Vigilante tolerates un-embedded links. Tnlib's link is Truth Squad.

  12. Mayor Bloomberg's speech on the mosque issue was extremely moving, I thought. He clearly understands the ramifications of this far more than Mr.s Hannity, O'Reilly, etc. do.